Mount St. Francis as inter-generational arts and health centre?

Centre would connect youth with Mountain Lakes seniors

A local choir leader and music director would like to see Mount St. Francis renovated and used as an arts hub where young artists and the residents of Mountain Lakes would collaborate.

Young people and seniors would get the chance to sing, play, act, paint and otherwise be artists together, Allison Girvan suggests, for the benefit of both groups.

“This suggestion embraces wholly the consideration for Mount St. Francis to maintain a focus on health care in the community,” she says.

For the residents, “it is a chance to engage their minds, stir their souls and feel part of something bigger than the small universe of their facility. For the families of the residents, it offers the possibility of a shared activity close at hand and the assurance that their family members are given the opportunity to be engaged and have more contact with community.”

Mount St. Francis hospital operated from 1947 until 2005, when the Interior Health Authority closed it.

Girvan directs about 200 singers in five choirs in Nelson with members ranging from six to early 20s. She also collaborates in or directs several other local musical and theatre projects per year including the annual Capitol Theatre summer youth program, in addition to teaching and performing across Canada and in the U.S.

“I have been mulling over how to kick-start this idea using my family of youth choirs. I imagine a choir of 10 to 13 year olds, and inviting seniors to participate in rehearsals.

Allison Girvan. Photo: Louis Bockner

“Some of the older teen singers could walk over to accompany mobile residents, or family members who are visiting residents could use this opportunity to take their less mobile loved ones to an activity that does not involve the often difficult prospect of transporting them by vehicle to a more distant location.”

She says she is aware of the complexity and cost of the work that needs to be done on the building but she suggests the project could start with only the renovation of a small part of the building, to be expanded later to include other artistic disciplines or other compatible uses.

Girvan says she has seen many situations where singing in community has removed borders and amplified common ground between people who might otherwise never get to know each other.

“This means that, for youth who may wonder what there is to say to someone so much older and at a different stage of life, or for seniors who have similar concerns about youth or may be unable to converse easily, there is no need to find any words to begin the connection. It is made by singing and once that path is established, it becomes natural to build on that connection to develop relationship.”

And relationship is crucial to the health of many seniors, she says. So is a sense of hope.

“A multi-generational format gives a sense of hope. I know at my age when I see young people doing beautiful things it gives me a lot of hope for the planet and humanity. That is a gift that young people can give older people.

“I cannot image something that would address the health of the community in a more complete way, in a more global way.”

Girvan says that although she has no specific plan for how this would be funded, she wants to send this idea out to the community as a possibility.

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